To convert something means to change it from one thing to another. This word can be used in a spiritual sense to talk about the change that occurs in a person when they are changed from a normal human into a person who has been “born again” into a new life.
According to standard Christian doctrine, through conversion people receive a new nature, reconciliation with God through the propitiation of Jesus and an impartation of the indwelling spirit. This process is the basis of the “good news” that Jesus brought us and that is shared through evangelism.
All of the above is included in the category of essential doctrine and underlies the Christian life.
So far so good. But why is it that so many evangelically “converted” people are living “normal” human lives? Many are double minded, apathetic, often immoral and usually hiding weakness and failure.
If we examine the application of “conversion” to Christian practices and Christian culture we find ample evidence that something is wrong.
For example, can a person come to faith in Jesus and be converted but not follow God in obedience? Would such a person, who failed to demonstrate the spirit or character of Jesus, who failed to progress into sanctification, who is worldly, carnal and distant from God, really be converted?
The current idea that it’s “belief” that makes a person a Christian has lost something. That is, “belief” has frequently come to mean mental agreement with established doctrine rather than a life changing relationship. Propositional Christianity is no substitute for experiential and relational Christianity.
These issues are at the core of many of the changes that are occurring in the protestant evangelical world. People are questioning whether doctrine is really as important as they were taught. They are questioning whether a self-serving form of Christianity reflects real conversion. Many individuals are tired of hearing constant teaching without experiencing any real change in their lives. There is a new search for humility, sacrifice and social justice. An arrogant closed off “fortress” church is no longer acceptable.
So how do we hold onto orthodoxy and yet grow beyond our constrictions? How can we have good doctrine and transformed lives at the same time?
One answer to these questions is coming from the reintroduction of ancient traditions and practices into the protestant experience. The monastic life is offering some answers, as are the practices of contemplation, community life, daily rhythms, service to the poor, tolerance to the tolerable and a life of abiding in Christ.